BEST PLACES TO EAT IN L.A.

We’re just back from LA where in addition to stops at The Broad and the beach we ate, ate and then ate some more. LA is one of our favorite eating cities; restaurants are laid-back and creative, showcasing seasonal and local fare thanks to produce that is off the charts. LA reflects the rich cultural diversity of America, in the mood for Thai, Korean, Mexican, or Chinese—no problem! Like many food obsessed cities there’s always something new opening, but here’s a list to get you going with some of our favorites. As an added bonus, we asked our friend and local foodie guru Alison Dinerstein of Twist Your Spirits to share her favorite haunts listed below. Check out Twist Your Spirits artisan cocktail kits and be your own mixologist at home—just add your favorite spirit and some friends and you’ve got a party!

Bowl Food Nirvana: Breakfast at uber popular Sqirl is worth waking up for -- it’s best to go early, anyway, to avoid a long line, and be warned—you’ll want to order everything on the menu. On a non-descript street in Silver Lake, the space may be minimal but there’s nothing simple about the flavors of the food. Sure you’ll see the sorrel pesto rice bowl on everyone’s table, but we’re still dreaming of the chicken and rice porridge, and addictive, crispy rice salad. It was so good we ordered the cookbook as soon as we got home so we can recreate it all summer long. Oh and you need to get the ricotta toast with homemade jam, it may be an over order, but who cares you can skip lunch.

Better at Breakfast: Don’t get us wrong we love Republique at dinner, but with reservations hard to come by, breakfast works just fine for us. Order at the counter and grab a seat at one of the large communal tables where folks are digging in to shakshuka, mushroom toast, kimchi-fried rice or one of the excellent pastries. And can we talk about the bread--we would be happy with just a baguette and the Normandy butter, the best bread and butter anywhere. Republique is striking, especially during the day with the light streaming in. 

Good Fellas: Everyone squeezes into the tight, narrow space at Jon and Vinnys  - and they’re having a great time. And why not? Serving excellent pastas and delicious pizzas forget your diet for the night and dig in. Order their signature “LA Woman” pie and two orders of the meatballs. Served with garlic bread and a side of ricotta— it was the star of the night, even for a table of non-meatball fans. Jon and Vinnys is also a good idea at breakfast and lunch, and it’s easier to get in to. (From the team behind meat-centric Animal, another great dining choice.)

Italian Corner: Over on Highland and Melrose, there’s an Italian trifecta from Chefs Nancy Silverton and Mario Batali—casual Pizzeria Mozza, meat centric Chi Spacca and fine dining Osteria Mozza. We ate at Osteria Mozza known for its mozzarella bar, flavorful salads and great pastas. (Order the orecchiette with sausage) Don’t skip desert here-- Dahlia Narvaez won Outstanding Pastry Chef at the 2016 James Beard Awards—one bite of the huckleberry bombolini and you’ll know why.  

Spicy: Night and Market is fun for addictive chicken wings and papaya salad unless you’re spice sensitive-- the thai food here is hot, as in spicy hot.  (There’s also sibling Night and Market Song in Silver Lake) Jitaldia may be in a strip mall, but this southern-thai spot with an extensive menu is the real deal. Jitaldia doesn’t take reservations so go early or at lunchtime, if you don’t want to wait.

Downtown Smorgasbord: It was love at first sight for us at the historic Grand Central Market, a massive food hall and serious eating destination with overwhelmingly good choices. The only problem is deciding what to eat, from breakfast sandwiches at Eggslut, burgers at Bel Campo, falafel at Madcapra, smoked fish at Wexlers Deli, that street food at Sticky Rice or tacos at Tacos Tumbras A Tomas. Brand new from the owners of Republique, Sari, Sari Store is one to watch for Filipino comfort food—we expect his will be a new go-to in the market. Finish it all off with an excellent coffee at G & B Coffee

Scenic: The waves are the soundtrack at stunner Nobu in Malibu where you could say the food, though excellent, is the supporting actor to the ocean setting. Go for lunch, sit on the patio and don’t forget your sunglasses. After lunch go for walk on the scenic Malibu Pier and watch the surfers. Malibu Farms, is a great healthy spot for salads and sandwiches on the pier, read more about it here.

Inventive: In a hip space in Koreatown, Heres Looking at You serves creative small plates made for sharing alongside delicious cocktails—take an uber and don’t drive. The Hamachi Collar with fuji apple, snake beans and Nashville Hot sauce demands a return visit on our next trip.

Local: Rose Café is the kind of place you wish you had in your neighborhood—it’s great at any time of the day—with friends, with kids, a date or even solo. This iconic Venice restaurant has been completely redone into a multi-concept eating venue. The large, eclectic space boasts a bakery, coffee bar, bar area, big open kitchens, plus two patio’s. The food is good, it wasn’t our best meal in LA, but we loved the space and the vibe, all in all a fun night.

Just Opened: From Josh Loeb and Zoe Nathan of Huckleberry, Rustic Canyon, Cassia and Milo and Otis fame its no wonder Tallula’s, though new to the scene, is already packing in the crowds in Santa Monica. The menu reads Mexican modern with SoCal influences served up in a fun, beachy space. Leave room for Nathan’s desserts and definitely have one, or more, of the delicious cocktails. 

Ethnic: Out scouting USC for Daytripper University we had lunch at Chichen Itza in the nearby Mercado la Paloma. There’s a reason locals rave about the pork and chicken pibil--its the kind of plate where everything speaks to each other in each bite—sweet plantains, black beans and oh so flavorful meat. The owners have just opened Holbox in the same market featuring raw and cooked Yucatan-style seafood, now there’s even more reason to go to the Mercado hungry.

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Anytime of Day: From the first moment we walked into Gjusta we were smitten—the chic industrial space, the beautiful food displayed behind glass cases, the bakers at work. Gjusta is the younger sibling of one of our favorite restaurants in LA--and really anywhere else too—Gjelina. (Book well in advance for Gjelina) If we lived in LA you’d find us here a few times a week eating on the back patio or grabbing take out to bring home or to the beach. The breakfast Bialy sandwich is seriously addictive; loaded with egg, merguez sausage, arugula, gruyere and harissa--so good were still thinking of it while eating our grain free granola back home.

Pasta Master: Chef Evan Funke is back in action with hand rolled pastas at Felix in a Venice bungalow on Abbot Kinney. The centerpiece of this buzzing Italian is the climate controlled room where pastas are being made in front of you—this is cacio pepe heaven!

Fish, Fish, Fish: Connie and Ted’s is loud and bustling—with a New England menu of lobster rolls, clam chowder, grilled fish with herbs and a seafood boil that is summer in a bowl. It’s a fun, casual place for good reliable seafood and perfect for larger groups. Dig in to the Parker Rolls and order the calamari to start—trust me.

Word of Mouth: Everyone’s talking about Kismet, and for good reason. This all day, packed, minimalist spot in Los Feliz showcases a veggie heavy, Middle Eastern menu, from the team behind Madcapra. We don’t know about you but we are over avocado toast and the delicious broccoli toast is a welcome spin. You need to order the Persian cucumbers with lebneh and parsley seed za'atar-and the shakshuka-and the flaky bread. Better yet, go with a friend or two so you can share.

Salads: Joan’s on Third is great for breakfast and lunch with a side of good people watching. This is the space that I’m convinced Nancy Myers used as her inspiration for Meryl Streep’s gourmet kitchen shop in the movie ‘It’s complicated’. Come here for a quick bite—there’s an array of good sandwiches, veggie plates and salads. On a nice day sit outside before heading over to Melrose to shop.

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Good Luck: Book way in advance at Bestia, located downtown in the hot arts district. The food is rustic Italian, the space is industrial, and the place is perennially packed-one of the hardest reservations in LA to get.

Ran Out of Time: We so wanted to try the bowls we’ve been seeing on Instagram at Baroo. And tacos at Guisados, Oaxacan food at Guelaguetza, and French-Asian fare at Cassia. We didn't have time to visit old favorites like Suzanne Goin’s Lucques or AOC, Italian classic Giorgio Baldi, or Spago in Beverly Hills.  And, of course all the restaurants on Alison’s list below.


Alison's List

Los Angeles Favorites by Neighborhood from Alison of Twist Your Spirits

  • Top Silverlake/Echo Park: Cafe Stella, Alimento, Botanica, , Ostrich Farm, Winsome, Sqirl
  • KoreaTown(Ktown): Ham Ji Park, Le Comptoir, Here’s Looking at You
  • West Hollywood/Hollywood: Papilles, Petit Trois, Nora, Jon and Vinnys, Gwen and Salt’s Cure, for brunch.
  • Downtown: Bestia, Wurstkuche, Sushi Gen, Ka Ga Ya, Sushi Enya, Kozunori
  • Santa Monica: Felix, Scopa
  • San GabrielMian Restaurant (insane homemade Chinese noodles)

 

 


Related Destinations


The Insiders Guide to Mykonos

Sometimes we haven’t been there, done that. When a friend called asking for tips on Mykonos, we couldn’t help her as our information from some 20 odd years ago (backpacking after college) was just a little out of date. Then we remembered a friend of a friend, a very chic woman who has a house on the island for over 20 years who was more than willing to help. This is what Daytripper is all about - word of mouth from trusted sources. 

Hotel Info: I steer friends to stay at three different hotels depending on what they are looking for. Santa Marina has a private beach, quite decent and there’s a large pool. It’s not far from town and it’s the most similar to a resort that we have on Mykonos. Cavo Tagoo is not on the beach, but it's across the street from the sea. Everything is very white, a design and décor that works for grown ups (I wouldn’t stay here with young kids.) There's a pool but I suggest you go to different beaches every day. It’s also pretty close to town. If you want to stay in town, there is the Belvedere Hotel; it's a small boutique hotel with a stunning Nobu restaurant. You can then go to beaches during the day and not have to drive at night, a good plus after a late night dinner and dancing.

Best Beaches: I love Agios Sostis, though it’s not organized, by which I mean there’s no umbrellas, etc. But, there’s a tiny taverna called Kiki's that doesn’t take reservations, everyone waits, EVERYONE. Lia Beach is 30 minutes from town, it’s organized with umbrellas and there’s a taverna on the beach. The water is lovely. If you’re looking for something low key, Kalafatis Beach is a great place to enjoy the water -  it’s very local with a taverna that’s just OK.

Lunchtime Beach Eats: Spilia is a restaurant on the beach in a cave. It's great-- really fab--you must book ahead of time. Definitely go. On Ftelia Beach, Alemagou is the coolest restaurant, another don’t miss. It’s not the nicest beach on the island, but people still swim there. Nammos on Psarou Beach is a complete scene...it’s like St. Tropez’s Club 55, but on steroids... totally full on. The water is beautiful and it is something to experience--at least once during your stay. On Kalo Livadi, an organized beach there is a good taverna as well. I love going to Fokos Beach; it’s a mix of locals and cool people, the closest to what Mýkonos was many years ago. There are no loungers’ or umbrellas, but there is a simple taverna that we like very much. The owners spent a lot of money refurbishing Panormos, there’s a good restaurant and you can arrange beach seating. Finally, Scorpios restaurant is very cool…almost too cool… great food, great vibe, very cool peeps, must book. Must go.

At Dinner: Our favorites include: Interni Restaurant, Chez Katrins, Kalita, Nobu, Sea Satin, and Kazarma

 


Related Destinations


Washington DC: Capitalizing on Our Nation’s Capital

Whether you live in the U.S. or are visiting from another country, Washington D.C. is a must see. Boasting some of the best restaurants, boutique hotels, monuments, and museums in America, you could easily spend months exploring and never see (or eat!) the same thing twice.

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Roadtrip: Cross-country from L.A. to N.Y.

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We are firm believers of the somewhat clichéd statement that it’s all about the journey and not the destination, and that road trips, more than most other trips, make the destination almost secondary. Time on the road promises spontaneous discoveries, wide-open landscapes, time to think, perhaps catch up with a friend or yourself, all the while listening to great music, podcasts or books on tape. We were thrilled when Sophie Barnett agreed to chronicle her recent cross-country jaunt from LA back to NY for Daytripper365.  Follow along, we had a smile on our face the whole time, and so will you. Sophie reminds us that mishaps sometimes occur when you travel, but with a sense of humor and a good spirit it still makes for a fun trip nonetheless. For great book recommendations, on the road or on the couch, follow Sophie on her blog, Covers to Covers

Tripper Tips:

Make sure you bring a good camera - we recommend  Fuji XT2 or the Sony both mirrorless cameras. If you're looking for an instant camera, Fuji Mini 9  lets you take great photos.

You can't go on the road without the right apps! iExit lets you see what restaurants, hotels and restrooms are off every exit on your road trip. Yes, we know you already know about Waze, but we have to reiterate how great this community based app is! This is the absolute best tool to help beat traffic and save you time. Gasbuddy  is super helpful on the road. This price-comparison app helps users find the cheapest gas options on the road.

If you want to try and match a book to the state you're visiting, Business Insider rounded up the most famous book set in every state across the country - read their article here.

Tuesday-LA to New Mexico

My boyfriend, Jamie, runs a pants company called Pkok. This spring, he’s been traveling to different colleges across the country and throwing events in conjunction with fraternities at which he sells the pants. I met him in Los Angeles after the USC event, and after a few days relaxing in Venice, we headed East on a road trip. Our destination: Washington and Lee in Lexington Virginia for another Pkok event later in the week. We had a lot of ground to cover!

On day one of our road trip, we set out from The Rose Hotel in Venice around 11:00 a.m. Sustained by a brioche breakfast sandwich from The Rose Café (previously mentioned on Daytripper here), which just so happened to be one of the best things I ate during my entire stay in L.A., we steeled ourselves for the longest leg of our trip. Our plan was to drive to Santa Fe, which would take about twelve hours. While in L.A., we barely left the Venice/Santa Monica area, so I was pleased to discover that our route took us past downtown L.A. It was our final view of a sprawling metropolis for at least another three days.

Our Tuesday drive spanned California, Arizona, and New Mexico. While the California landscape we traversed was essentially all deserts, it was Arizona, which surprised us the most. Considering Arizona generally conjures images of cacti, we were both surprised to encounter densely wooded area on our way to Flagstaff. For a good hour, we were also greeted with a view of a snow-capped mountain range, which a quick Google search revealed as Humphrey’s Peak, the highest natural point in the state of Arizona.

Fortunately for efficiency’s sake, but unfortunately for that of my content, our stops on the first day of the trip were essentially all gas stations. Word to the wise: if you’re planning a cross-country road trip on a tight deadline, pack a 12-pack of bars (I like these “kid friendly” ones, don’t judge me) and bring a cooler with flavored Polar seltzer (you’ll drink it slower than you would water, thus warranting fewer roadside bathroom stops, and it’ll, at least partially and temporarily, quell the inevitable hunger that will crop up at inconvenient places along the route.)

Soundtrack: Along with a lot of heavy rap to keep Jamie awake, we listened to “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck” by Mark Manson. While Manson’s book was nothing revelatory; you’ve heard it before from the likes of Tim Ferris, Tony Robbins, and Gabby Bernstein—just C.Y.O.G. (choose your own guru, proud of that one), it was an entertaining way to pass five hours.  

Wednesday-Santa Fe and Amarillo

On Wednesday, we departed our hotel (okay, highway-side motel) in Gallup, New Mexico and set out for Santa Fe. Our first stop? Modern General. Founded by Santa Fe mainstay Erin Wade, Modern General is, as you might expect, a modern general store. It is a store that has everything: gardening seeds, hand-thrown ceramic bowls by local artisans, local cheeses, and popular books. The piece de resistance of Modern General, though, is the full-service juice and smoothie bar. They sell all the juice and smoothie varieties you can imagine, plus a highly intriguing blend of coconut, pineapple, and basil—definitely trying my hand with incorporating Basil into a smoothie when I return.

After a quick browse at MG, we headed over to Vinaigrette, the popular Santa Fe restaurant also owned and operated by Wade. For 2:00 pm on a Wednesday, the place was packed to the brim; we were seated at a corner table, one of the last in the house, which served as the perfect vantage point from which to enjoy an excellent hibiscus grapefruit lemonade and a chopped Greek salad. As an added bonus to the delicious fare, Wade focuses heavily on sustainability: seventy percent of the produce served at the restaurant comes from her farm, and all food waste is composted. Whether or not you make it all the way to Santa Fe, Wade’s principles are worth checking out.

Following our Vinaigrette visit, we drove around town to observe the incredible architecture, and then set out for Amarillo, TX. We arrived just as the sun was setting, and made our way to Cadillac Ranch. Not only was this one of the most unique sites we visited, it was also the location at which my phone decided to die right as I attempted to capture a photo. If you ever find yourself on I-40 with creative energy in need of an outlet, bring a can of spray paint and get to work on the Cadillac’s—it’s not only allowed, but also encouraged. The story of Ant Farm, the collective behind the project is worth a read.

Later that night, we were raring for some good old-fashioned Texas BBQ, so we headed to Robinson’s per a local’s recommendation. When we arrived, the woman essentially shut the door in our faces, proclaiming she had already locked it and “had no idea how [we] got through the damn door.” In the end, we settled for chicken nuggets and vanilla milkshakes at Chik-Fil-A. You win some, you lose some.

Soundtrack: as we made our way towards Oklahoma on Wednesday and Thursday, we listened to Killers of the Flower Moon. Killers of the Flower Moon follows the Osage Indians, a tribe forced to relocate to a parcel of land in Oklahoma that happened to sit on some of the most valuable oil deposits in the country. In 1923, payments to the Osage from those who wished to access the deposit totaled $400 million in today’s currency. As the Osage net worth continued to rise, prominent members of the tribe began to go missing. Not only were we driving almost directly through the Osage territory, the story also seemed like an incredible, gripping murder mystery. However, Gann got so bogged down in the historical context and switched so frequently between present and past that you’d blink and miss an entire plotline.

Thursday-Memphis

By Thursday, we were starting to get weary, and, though I had grand plans to visit “The Womb,” billed by Atlas Obscura as “a psychedelic arts center founded by the frontman of the Flaming Lips, I had to cast them aside as we decided we’d be better off driving straight to Memphis. If you’re a fan of the Flaming Lips, it is by all accounts worth checking out. Had we stayed overnight in Oklahoma City, we’d have headed straight to the 21C Museum-Hotel, a hotel boasting nearly 15,000 ft. of space for contemporary art exhibitions, and billed by Travel + Leisure as one of the Best New Hotels in the World [It List 2017].  21c also contains Mary Eddy’s Kitchen + Lounge, a place I made a strong case for stopping at once I saw their mouthwatering photo gallery. Alas, traffic triumphed, and we continued to head east.

We arrived in Memphis around 9:00 pm, and headed straight for Hog + Hominy in East Memphis, a “Southern-Italian” restaurant helmed by famed Tennessee chefs Andy Hudman and Michael Ticer. The cuisine is an effortless blend of Southern comfort food (beef & cheddar dog) with Italian flair (the incredible flatbread pizza). A highlight? The door to the kitchen also functions as a bookshelf, just in case you’re dining alone or your companion doesn’t suffice. One of the best meals we had on the trip.

Friday –Memphis to Virginia

On Friday morning, I was in desperate need for anything that wasn’t a Nature Valley Almond Butter Biscuit. We headed to City Silo Table + Pantry, a funky health food store and café serving things so nutritious; I haven’t seen them on shelves in the East Village yet. After consuming the best green smoothie I’ve ever had (though I’m often guilty of it, this is not hyperbole) we headed towards our final stop: Lexington, Virginia.

Twelve hours of driving later, we arrived in Lexington at midnight, where we happened upon a cute, colonial inn, where we were instantly turned away. “Good luck getting a reservation anywhere,” the night manager called after us. We laughed, wondering how and why Lexington, Virginia, could possibly be at full occupancy. The answer? The combination of a Virginia Military Institute reunion and a horse show. After weathering three more hotel rejections, we settled on what must’ve been the last available suite in town: a smoking room in the Best Western. Armed with an “odor-eating” scent spray bottle to combat the fumes, we set up in our final destination. I don’t think I breathed through my nose for two days, and my throat is still recovering, but nonetheless, Lexington is worth a trip.

Soundtrack: Crimetown, a fascinating podcast about political corruption in Rhode Island. Great for fans of Serial & S-Town; I personally enjoyed it more than both of them.

Saturday - Virginia

Our Saturday event at Washington & Lee was the whole reason we drove across the country. The event, held off-campus, was a success, so much so that a man of about 70 wandered towards the table we were selling at and purchased himself a blue seersucker shirt for his Virginia Military Institute reunion that evening. The verdict: PKOK: fit for all ages.  

As a post-event reward, we finally treated ourselves to some excellent Southern BBQ, courtesy of Foothill Momma’s BBQ & Juke Joint. The place was exactly as you’d expect an excellent, no-frills BBQ place to look: red-checkered tablecloths, plastic chairs, and menus on the napkin box. All of the meat is smoked in a smokehouse behind the restaurant, and the smokehouse nachos, which are served on potato instead of tortilla chips, were the best I’ve ever had. All in all, a satisfyingly Southern end to an epic cross-country road trip.

Have you ever given/will you ever give a cross-country road trip a try? Let me know!

TOP THINGS TO DO IN MEXICO CITY

Be ready to hit the ground running; there’s a wealth of things to do during a stay in Mexico City, one of the world’s largest cities, home to some 23 million people. The city is a fascinating mix of modern culture and ancient heritage with world-class museums, a vibrant art scene and exciting restaurants.

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Have Camera, Will Travel: A Photo Workshop in San Miguel

Santa Fe Workshops, a renowned photography school based in New Mexico takes things on the road for three consecutive weeks to San Miguel, Mexico every fall. If you love travel, taking pictures and have a basic understanding of your SLR and Lightroom workflow then you’ll savor the chance to move beyond your fundamental skills. I enrolled in a five day workshop led by Jennifer Spelman, a documentary and editorial photographer, entitled “Photographing the People and Culture of San Miguel de Allende’’.  Not only did my photography improve, but I left with a greater understanding of the difference between ‘taking’ a photograph and ‘making’ a photograph. We learned, and practiced, what the great Jay Maisel said: “Get closer. Walk slower than your walking-stand and wait and something will happen.

The Schedule: Being in a workshop for five full days allows the time for mornings dedicated to class critiques and PowerPoint presentations on techniques, creativity and Adobe Lightroom skills. Afternoons are all about shooting at a different location each day. We shot around San Miguel, at an agave farm in the countryside, in the delightful town of Guanajuato and at the authentic Hacienda Las Trancas with live models. (Dinner at the Hacienda was a highlight) You truly live and breathe photography and have time to get to know your fellow classmates and their own unique styles and visions.

Why a Travel Workshop: On the first morning of class, we watched Jennifer’s  inspiring slideshow of her work. She then said something that encapsulates why you traveled all the way to San Miguel, rather than take a class at your local photo school. I paraphrase, but it went something like this: “For the next five days as much as possible leave everything from home behind and immerse yourself in your art—truly be an artist. Being away from it all in a vibrant and inviting place allows for the passionate discovery of what that means.

Why San Miguel: Well for one thing, this year, Travel + Leisure readers named it #3 on the list of the world’s best cities, right after Charleston and Chang Mai, and in 2014, Conde Nast Traveler readers voted San Miguel the #1 travel destination in the world. Plus there’s amazing light, vibrant colors, and countless fabulous restaurants and hotels.  The city is safe and friendly with year round consistently pleasant weather. For a detailed itinerary featuring the best things to do and see in San Miguel see our full guide here.

Stay: Santa Fe Workshops uses La Posada de la Aldea as their home base for the three weeks of consecutive workshops they offer. The location is perfect-- just blocks from San Miguel's historic central plaza and with three classrooms it doubles as an onsite school. The extensive grounds are the biggest plus with gardens, fountains, a small swimming pool, and secluded courtyards. The rooms themselves are basic and clean, though tired. Most disappointing was the food in the restaurant. Though lunch was included, I choose to eat my meals elsewhere.

Don’t Miss: Each Monday night during Santa Fe’s sessions, the three teachers from that week’s workshops give a PowerPoint presentation of their work, open to the public, in the beautiful Bellas Artes building in town. It was a fascinating look at three different photography styles and perspectives. As San Miguel is known as a haven for artists with a large expat community it was standing room only. Go early to get a good seat.  

Make Time: I highly suggest that you consider adding a day or two before (or after) your workshop. During the workshop you are busy from morning till night, and though there is some free time and two dinners on your own it is not enough time to fully explore San Miguel.

Up Next: For me, this workshop was just the beginning, lighting a fire to learn more and take my photography in new directions. I would do another Santa Fe Workshop in a second, and would love to try one of their programs at their school in the foothills of Santa Fe. (Home to legendary light and landscape) Other well respected programs with enticing workshops include the Maine Media Workshops and College based in Rockport, Maine and National Geographic Expeditions.

Don’t have time to get away? Check your local area for classes and intensive weekend workshops. In my hometown of NY, I can highly recommend The International Center of Photography (ICP). They offer photography education for every level, from courses and workshops to certificate and master's degree programs.

SAN MIGUEL DE ALLENDE

We have been dreaming of visiting San Miguel de Allende (located in Mexico’s central highlands) since the early 90’s after reading Nothing to Declare by Mary Morris, a true precursor to Eat, Pray, Love. Morris writes of her life in San Miguel, a colonial town that has long attracted artists and expats drawn to its baroque architecture, charming cobble stoned streets, brightly colored buildings and striking light. Jumping at a chance to finally visit, we enrolled in a week-long photo workshop through Santa Fe Workshops, arriving two days early to explore on our own. It was magical to finally get to know San Miguel, considered by many to be one of Mexico’s greatest cities.

Tripper Tips:

San Miguel is not easily accessible—fly through Houston to either Leon (approximately a 90 minute drive) or Queretaro (60 minutes).  Queretaro is a much smaller airport, which translates to less people and an easy check in with no lines.

It’s truly an experience to be in San Miguel on Nov 1 and 2 to celebrate Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) in true style and spectacle. Though the name might sound morbid, it is actually a joyful, epic celebration, a citywide festival with Catrina parades, public altars, dances and plays open to visitors and locals alike.

It’s easy to get your Zen on-- San Miguel has many wellness, yoga and massage spots around town plus a fun organic market on Saturdays. Check the schedule of classes at Lifepath Retreats if you have some extra time.

Stay: We stayed at the luxurious Rosewood San Miguel, designed to feel like a colonial era grand hacienda. A few blocks from the town center and just steps from Juarez Park, the Rosewood is a peaceful oasis, with large spacious rooms, a beautiful pool and lovely gardens. Looking for something more intimate? San Miguel is known for its small, boutique properties. We’d gladly check into the Hotel Matilda, a modern, minimalist property with a contemporary art collection, a chic spa and a noteworthy restaurant Moxi, from famed Mexico City chef Enrique Olvera. (Matilda is around the corner from the Rosewood, also by Juarez Park.) L’Otel is tucked away on a side street right in town; it feels as if you’re staying at a friend’s stylish home featuring a lovely breakfast room, cozy lounge and a private rooftop terrace. With only 4 rooms it’s perfect for a family or a few couples traveling together.

Breakfast: For a traditional Mexican meal, everyone heads to El Pegaso (also popular at lunch) where the decor is funky and festive with "nichos" decorating the walls. Another popular spot is MuRo Café—order the huevos a la Mexicana. Cumpanio has fantastic pastries, it’s a bakery, café and restaurant; perfect for a sit down or a grab and go. A friend swears by bakery La Colmena; “we made this our regular bakery during the trip. This spot is legendary, look for the blue door.

Explore: Bring comfortable shoes--San Miguel is a walker’s paradise. Prepare to get lost in the streets (it’s half the fun) around the Historic Center, recently named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Thanks to strict building codes the downtown has stayed true to its colonial roots, it’s a well-preserved museum with colorful facades, hilly cobblestone streets and countless interior courtyards and rooftop terraces. Start at the Jardín, the lively central square that sits facing the neo gothic La Parroquia—possibly Mexico’s most photographed church. Continue walking to the church of San Francisco, then over one block to the Plaza Civica, the original gathering place of San Miguel, dating from the early 1500s. Across the plaza is the Templo de Nuestra Señora de la Salud with its 18th Century facade. Then stroll back to the Jardín for an ice cream at Gelato Doce, be adventurous and try the local flavors such as corn or avocado. Take a seat in the Jardin under the laurel-sculpted trees and join the mix of locals and tourists; all watching the world go by.

Lunch Spots: Cafe Rama, right down the street from the Rosewood, serves fresh, light Mexican food and hands-down the best tortilla soup in town. Every local told us to go to La Sirena Gorda for a casual meal of seafood tostadas and shrimp tacos, try the one with bacon, served in fresh tortillas.  Definitely order the green pozole at the small rooftop restaurant La Posadita.  Next-door, super stylish Quince offers sophisticated dining atop a chic rooftop terrace. Oozing atmosphere, eat healthy California inspired food at the stunning courtyard of The Restaurant. Leave time after lunch to browse the fabulous small boutique attached to the restaurant.

Shop: You can spend your entire trip shopping in San Miguel; there are so many stores around the main square and up and down the side streets. Thanks to Emily Fox of Materia, the founder of the fabulous online Mexi/Cali concept store Materia we were armed with a great shopping list. Emily is a passionate traveler with incredible taste and knowledge especially throughout Mexico. “Appearances are deceiving as there are lots of hole-in-the wall shops where you can find plenty a gem. Don't miss the tiny Casa de Vidrio, which has great glassware. For boutiques, I love bohemian chic Mixta, high end mid-century Insh'ala and romantic Camino Silvestre. Also Y SOMOS, the stunning studio/gallery of artist Patricia Larsen. And then there's Fabrica Aurora, which is a great complex of antique and upscale home stores housed in a converted turn-of-the-century textile factory. With nearly 30 art studios and galleries, in addition to interior design shops, jewelry boutiques and antique stores, allow some time here to explore. Outside of town, Gorky Gonzalez's traditional ceramics in Guanajuato are legendary (you may need an appointment). And Dolores Hidalgo is the famous pottery town nearby.”  Though she hadn’t been, Emily steered us towards chic, minimal Kingsley Market, a small gallery like space on a sleepy street near the Hotel Matilda with a well-curated collection of high-end artisan Mexican handicrafts and accessories. Though it wasn’t local, we couldn’t leave without splurging on a Japanese weaved scarf from Tamaki Niime. Each scarf is one of a kind made from vintage looms and hand dyed in a range of colors—we wanted them all!

Artisan Market: A visit to this colorful handicraft market makes for a fun afternoon wander. Navigate the large number of stands showcasing artisan wares from the region such as: blown glass, plastic woven bags, jewelry, baskets, carved items from quarry stone and mesquite wood, wooden crosses covered in silver charms and hand embodied shirts and dresses. This is a good place to stock up on gifts for family back home with everything well priced compared to the shops in town. The market spans three connecting alleyways about a five-minute walk from the center of town. (Most stands only take cash; so hit the ATM in the central Jardin Square before you head over.)

Sunset Drinks: A must, at least once during your trip, is to have a drink and watch the sunset at Luna Tapas Bar on the rooftop of the Rosewood Hotel. It has the absolute best views (360 degrees) in San Miguel. From Luna you can see everything from the spires of La Parroquia and the other major churches to the reservoir and the mountains in the distance. The food is definitely secondary to the view, but the cocktails are excellent.

Dinner: Without a doubt, La Parada was our favorite meal in San Miguel for delicious authentic Peruvian food served in a lively upscale setting. We’d return to Jacinto 1930’s for the fideo soup with avocado, chipotles and crema, but the dazzling space set in Doce-18 is worth a visit alone. (Doce-18 is a new hotel and concept space in what was the former historic Casa Cohen. It’s been dramatically restored, now part art gallery, part boutique with a gourmet food court, tequila and wine tasting spaces and a soon to open new hotel.) We agree with Emily who told us she could go to “La Mezcaleria every night for simply grilled shrimp and vegetables. A tiny bar/restaurant where each of the (very few) dishes is somehow just perfect--and so are the mezcal cocktails!” We wished we had more time to try what we hear are two excellent restaurants just out of town—the farmhouse De Temporada where local ingredients are the star and Ristorante da Andrea, a surprising Italian spot located in a house with views of the cacti fields.

Cooking Classes: San Miguel is a city of classes and perhaps most famous for its hands on cooking classes. Unfortunately we had no extra time on this trip, but we’re looking forward to trying out Emily recommendations next time: “I loved Marilau,  where we practiced traditional style cooking inside a home--it was like learning your Mexican grandmother's secrets! And years ago we did a class with Kris Rudolph,  where we made delicious hibiscus enchiladas and the best tres leche cake ever. Kris was out of town last time I went, but she recommended Paco Cardenas  and Patsy Dubois.

Nearby Activities:

  • Take a taxi to San Miguel’s botanical garden El Charco del Ingenio, a wonderful high desert nature preserve, featuring native Mexican plants, cactus gardens, hiking trails, and a view of the wild El Charco de Ingenio canyon.   

  • Explore the pre-Columbian archaeological site of Cañada de la Virgen, just a short twenty-minute drive from San Miguel. The site features pyramids, temples and monumental buildings, as well as artifacts discovered during its excavation.

  • Run by volunteer expats, The San Miguel Library offers a House and Garden tour every Sunday. Tours depart at noon from the Biblioteca to view two private residences. You can purchase your tickets in advance at the library, (20 USD) and all proceeds are used to support educational programs for the children of San Miguel.   

  • Head to La Gruta and swim in the natural hot spring pools, nature’s own spa! Emily recommends a stop at delicious “La Burger on the way back, an upscale "shack" on the side of the road surrounded by cacti. Then visit Atontonilco--this church is often referred to as the Sistine Chapel of the Americas because of its intricately painted ceilings - it's lovely a good combination with a visit to La Gruta.”

Worth the Drive: We wished we had more time to spend in Guanajuato, a beautiful university town with a European feel approximately 90 minutes from San Miguel. (Our afternoon flew by too quickly) While some say San Miguel can feel Disneyesque, Guanajuato reads more local with fewer tourists. Hire a driver to navigate the twisting road, and then soak up the colorful, cobble stoned alleyways, the shady plazas and baroque architecture—all with a different feel from San Miguel. Stop at the Cervantes Museum to get a fill of Don Quixote-inspired art and sculpture, then head to the birthplace of Diego Rivera, now home to a wonderful collection of his art. Don’t skip a ride on the Funicular Panoramico for spectacular views of the whole city and region before heading back to San Miguel.


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